Charming graphics and presentation; respectable collection of unlockables
Uninspired music; lack of more sophisticated dance mechanics
Natsume should be no stranger to longtime Videogameland residents, though Santa Entertainment is probably a little less well-known. Fortunately, the division of Santa that worked on Gabrielle’s Ghostly Groove: Monster Mix, released last month for WiiWare, comes from a respectable pedigree that includes Princess Debut and Cheer We Go– and it shows. Ghostly Groove lackadaisically jaunts forth with adorable charm, and while it may seem short, it’s also 500 Wii Points– and for that price, it delivers more than enough.
While Gabrielle’s Ghostly Groove: Monster Mix is clearly geared to younger audiences, with adorable teddy bears and a cowardly vampire straight out of Sesame Street rounding out the cast, Santa Entertainment and Natsume throw in some bones for the older crowd too. The whole point of all that dancing, for example, is to help get Vlad-the-Vampire’s zombies back– after all, as Gabrielle smilingly points out, zombies love to dance. Meanwhile, the Big Bad (who, predictably, isn’t so bad after all) suffers from an ironically incurable case of hiccups, considering she’s the one who’s supposed to be scaring everybody else. Along with the clearly-for-completionists collectables in the form of alternate characters and different dresses (punk rock girl, Japanese sailor schoolgirl, Alice in Wonderland, you name it), Ghostly Groove‘s worth its weight in Wii Points to practically any audience who cares to give Gabrielle its time.
Gabrielle is surprisingly genre-savvy, even for a human visiting Monster Town.
Of course, most of that time will probably be spent dancing rather than dressing, though ostensibly to get all the outfits and other unlockables for future dress-up games. Each song has a short and long version (“in case you don’t have enough energy,” the game operations manual cheerfully says), and since you can’t unlock items in the short versions, you might as well play the long ones. After all, the dancing mechanic itself is pretty simple, mainly consisting of waving your arms around, your body itself being mostly stationary. It’s more Para Para Paradise than, say, Just Dance or even Dance Dance Revolution, a game inspired more by anime and J-Pop music videos than hip-hop or techno flavors. In fact, many motions seem to be taken straight out of Sailor Moon‘s transformation sequences, finger-wagging and arms akimbo included. The motions, assuming you’re following them, are actually a lot of fun, even though you probably wouldn’t be caught doing them in public; playing some private multiplayer with up to four people, though, almost makes you feel like you’re on some kind of superhero dance team. A rather feminine superhero dance team, that is, but one nevertheless.
However, this fun does come at something of a cost. Or rather, it’s easily defeated. While the game tries to make it easier for its young audience by showing Tetris-like previews of what dance moves will come next, there’s a much simpler way of getting straight A’s on all ten songs. The Wii Remote vibrates whenever you’re supposed to make a gesture, and as long as you shake the Remote whenever that happens, you’re almost guaranteed to land at least a “Good” rating and continue your combo. Considering that these vibrations almost always land on the unchanging beats of the song, you could just shake the Wii Remote in rhythm even without looking and get a decent score. Obviously, if you’re going to play Gabrielle’s Ghostly Groove: Monster Mix while lying on the couch with a beer, you’re a) missing the point and b) probably not in Natsume and Santa’s target demographic, so this is something of a moot point– but it’s still a little vexing that the dance mechanic isn’t slightly more complex. Support for the Nunchuk, for instance, for two-handed dancing might have been nice, for instance, a la Dance Dance Revolution: Hottest Party.
Up to four players can compete to be the best– or cooperate to form a superhero dance team. Whichever works.
But what’s most regrettable about Ghostly Groove isn’t Gabrielle’s dancing, but rather the music that accompanies her. While it’s understandable that licensed music probably wouldn’t have allowed the 500-point price tag that Gabrielle carries, most of the music comes from familiar classical pieces, rearranged to fit a tad slower, yet still dance-esque, pace. Sometimes, this comes with decent results, but often it just makes you a little impatient. In either case, the songs are for the most part disappointingly unmemorable, or memorable just because their base pieces are, rather than because their arrangements are. Games like Konami and Nintendo’s Dance Dance Revolution: Mario Mix for GameCube, meanwhile, did a stellar job repurposing classical pieces to fit the genre– I would’ve absolutely welcomed the kind of remixes that Konami made with Mozart’s “Eine Kleine Nachtmusik” or Strauss’ “Tritsch-Tratsch-Polka”– after all, music’s the second most important part of this game after the dancing.
Take a break from dancing to figure out just how presentable Gabrielle needs to be to talk to a cowardly vampire.
But Gabrielle’s Ghostly Groove: Monster Mix is still fun in spite of its musical problems, and in fact provides no small measure of enjoyment– as long as you play it on its terms, not taking yourself too seriously. And despite Santa Entertainment mistaking waggle for actual dancing, it’s a game for friends and family, even if you’re over the age of ten. For just 500 Wii Points, you’ll probably like it– unless, of course, you’re the type that would just sit down and shake the remote. In which case, you can forget about being on my superhero dance team.